Page last updated at 14:15 GMT, Tuesday, 3 June 2008 15:15 UK

Orphaned heron given helping hand


Dude learns how to fly

Even birds have to learn to fly, and most rely on their feathered family to teach them.

But when a storm left a grey heron in Portreath, Cornwall, orphaned at just a few weeks old, it looked as though he might never get off the ground.

Enter wildlife expert turned flight instructor Gary Zammit.

He took the chick - which he named Dude - under his wing and showed him the ropes, by running along beside him, flapping his arms wildly and squawking.

Mr Zammit eventually got through to his feathered protege, and achieved lift-off.

Tentatively at first, Dude flew along at 3ft (91cm) off the ground, but now at three-months-old he soars at heights of up to 70ft (21m) and only comes back when his keeper calls.

Mr Zammit said the achievement was a "wonderful sight" after a lot of hard work.

I ended up getting really involved and running alongside him, flapping my arms like an idiot
Gary Zammit

"To encourage him to try flying I had to tempt him along with food in the hope that instinct would kick in and he would go up," he said.

"But for days he just walked alongside me, or occasionally hopped a bit.

"I ended up getting really involved and running alongside him, flapping my arms like an idiot."

Mr Zammit works at Gwel An Mor wildlife park in Portreath, Cornwall, and when Dude first flapped into his life he was small enough to fit in the palm of his hand.

Gradually, through careful hand feeding he gained strength and size, but one vital skill was missing.

Dude seemed quite content to stand rather than fly, but Mr Zammit was determined he should learn to do what should come naturally.

He likened the challenge to teaching a child to ride a bike.

Now 3ft (91cm) tall with a 4ft (1.2m) wingspan, Dude lives in an aviary at Feadon Farm in Portreath, but will soon have his very own enclosure.

And while he can never be released into the wild, thanks to Mr Zammit he can enjoy life on the wing.

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